A monumental failure of Texas state government is responsible for a statewide power outage causing devastation of our economy and many Texans’ homes. We have the opportunity and the resources to get everyone back on their feet and keep Texans housed. The question we face now is will we require that our government leaders act?
It’s moments like these that measure our goodness and call us to action. When we act with compassion and generosity we can look back at these moments and be proud. Individual acts of charity and compassion are the bedrock of a solution. Yet this crisis demands resources and action greater than individual acts of charity can provide. It requires a coordinated and large-scale public response led by our government in the name of all of us.
If we turn away from the public response carried out in our name and leave it to politicians to take care of our neighbors we have seen the tragic results; continued suffering of people in need as politicians forgo solutions to stoke the political and social divisions and paralysis we have come to bemoan.
Another week’s wages have already been lost at a time when many Texans are already on the brink of losing their homes because of the pandemic. Well over one million Texas families face huge rent and mortgage arrears and are only staying housed by a federal eviction moratorium set to expire next month. As the weather warms, Texans are confronted with burst pipes and flooded homes that will cost untold millions to repair. Millions of Texans will lack the money to do so.
For renters whose homes are now uninhabitable because of burst pipes, the eviction moratorium will not keep them housed. Homeowners living on very low-incomes who cannot afford to hire a plumber cannot restore water service so they can stay housed. We’ve learned from the series of disasters that have struck our state including hurricanes Rita, Ike, Dolly, Harvey, and several others that most renters and homeowners living with very low incomes do not have insurance. They simply cannot afford Texas’ high insurance rates while paying the rent or mortgage. We’ve also learned that past efforts at disaster recovery by the State of Texas and a number of local governments (speaking especially about the city government of Houston) have been inefficient, long drawn-out, tragic failures that too often exclude the poor who need help the most.
We must insist that our government, acting in our name, does better.
What is urgently needed is for Texans to refuse to permit our state and local governmental political leaders to engage in the traditional blame shifting and political opportunism they have resorted to following their past failures in disaster recovery. We need to be led by the compassion of regular Texans; compassion that directs help and financial assistance directly to people who do not have the means to recover on their own.
Governor Abbott and the Texas Legislature, you are responsible for this disaster. Here is what you must do to fix it:
- Secure from the federal government FEMA hotel/motel vouchers to temporarily house people whose homes are uninhabitable.
- Make an assessment (within 10 days) of the immediate financial need of homeowners and renters with low incomes who do not have access to the money or insurance to make necessary repairs or replace lost possessions.
- Immediately mobilize the Texas National Guard and faith-based volunteers and provide state-level coordination and support of their efforts to provide shelter, water and emergency repairs to Texans. Priority should be given to the poor, the elderly and people with disabilities. The Texas Guard and volunteers should be quickly trained and equipped to provide temporary emergency plumbing repairs to keep Texans housed until public financial resources and licensed plumbers are available to provide permanent repairs.
- Enact an emergency appropriation from the Texas Legislature sufficient to pay for restoring Texans’ homes to a habitable condition.
- Establish a statewide financial assistance program, modeled after the federal rent relief program now being administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. This program should get money to the people for home repairs. Funds should go directly to homeowners and to renters who need to find another place to live or replace personal property lost from water damage. This program needs to be simple to apply for and quick to get the money to the people.
We face a test of how good we are as a state. Texans need to demand better performance from our government. We must insist on effective government action that produces, fast, simple and achievable solutions to keep Texans housed.